A Kid on Christmas Eve

I’m writing this post on the eve of a monumental occasion: my first-ever all-grain brew day.  I’ve been building to this moment since the beginning of the Brew Hui project – and now that it’s finally upon me, I’m all-a-flutter with nervous excitement.

Those playing at home (ha!) may recall that my first objective was to assemble an all-grain brewing kit for $400 or less (which sounds like a lot of money, but trust me – it only sounds that way).  After an oft-frustrating (but ultimately satisfying) journey, it gives me all kinds of gooey pleasure to report that I might have just knocked the bastard off – flying-colours and all.  MashTun

Stepping back and looking at the finished result, I can’t help but fluff my feathers and feel a sense of peacock-like pride.  Like everything I do, it’s not perfect – far from it, in fact – but I genuinely don’t care.  It may be plain, but it’s plainly mine.   Since I assembled the kit myself, I feel like I’ve already developed a personal connection with it – a sense of union that will surely cut the duration of the (inevitable) teething period by a not-insignificant margin.

As well as inciting glowing pride in the end result, throwing the kit together provided a unique opportunity to conduct a wee experiment-within-an-experiment (a concept which tickles all six of my Geek Nipples): namely, to see how big, industrial companies – used to dealing with big, industrial customers – would treat a little bloke who was trying to cut-out the middle-man and build himself an itty-bitty brew kit.

Well, the results of this nipple-tickling experiment are in: and they make for an interesting contrast.

On the one hand, you have Anzor Stainless Steel – who I raved about in my Brew Hui Bullets post, principally due to their text-book customer relations and professionalism.  But on the other hand, you have my experience at Blackwood Paykels – where I went to pick up a metre of non-toxic PVC hose, for draining wort from the mash tun to the brew kettle.  The attendant at Blackwood Paykels made me feel like nothing short of an inconvenience for having darkened their door – to the point where he literally mocked me for the piffling size of my purchase (in a way that might be considered acceptable of old friends, but is entirely unacceptable when coming from a complete stranger).

Oi, Blackwood Paykels: sometimes small customers turn into big ones.  Or have poxy blogs to serve as pressure release valves.

These were, of course, the outliers – the minimum and maximum of my experiences – and I’m certainly not sufficiently naïve to think that Anzor are always fab and that Blackwood Paykels are always rubbish.  But my experiences were what they were – and after all, it’s the outliers in life that mark our memory most indelibly.

Overall, the Kit Creation journey has shown that although we may not have access to the rich homebrewing resources of a larger nation like the US – where ready-made all-grain kits cost approximately eleven cents – with a little bit of homework and a helping-hand or two, you can still build a pret-ty sweet kit for a bargain-basement price.

And you know what? I even came in $27.20 under-budget.  And what did I do with the spare dosh?  Why, what any self-respecting Beer Geek (and Homer Simpson disciple) would do, of course:

I spent it on beer.


The Plan

Earlier in the year, I touched on my new-found commitment to playing the ‘long game’ with this brewing malarkey – meaning that I intend to learn the craft iteratively, adding little (if any) flamboyance to the early brews and instead focussing on getting the basics right.  To that end, my first three brew days will respectively focus on three SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers – namely a Pale Ale, a Bitter and a Stout (the last of which may need to be a DMaSH beer, as in Double – cap-tip to Richard Rice via Twitter for pointing that one out). Once each of these beers have been fermented and conditioned, I’ll sit down with friends and family to taste the beers and talk about how they can be improved.  Then, we’ll collaborate on a re-mixed recipe – free of SMaSH restrictions – and brew the beer together.

The resulting three Brew Hui beers – names TBD – will then be entered into the SOBA National Homebrew Competition (the resulting poor-showing will make for exceptionally fun beer writing).  Then bingo-bango – the Brew Hui project will be over, and will metaphorically step into the cold night.

There’s a veritable smeg load of water to pass under the bridge in between that point and this – but to paraphrase Ferris Bueller, it’s important to occasionally stop in your tracks, turn your head, and remind yourself how far you’ve come.  The mash tun sitting in front of me started life as a wafer-thin stock pot and a bunch of stainless steel bits; now, it’s all-prepped to extract the sweet, sticky goodness from that big pile of Maris Otter grain waiting patiently in the corner of the garage.


To quote myself from the Twitterverse this week: Oh, it’s on. Like Donkey Kong. Playing Ping-Pong.

Twitter: @jasegurney | Facebook: www.facebook.com/brewhui

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